Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Blue Water Task Force: Creating Partnerships to Improve our Beaches

Presented at The Coastal Society's 21st Biennial Conference
Coastal Footprints: Minimizing Human Impacts, Maximizing Stewardship
June 29 - July 2, 2008, Redondo Beach, CA
Mara Dias & Charlie Plybon, Surfrider Foundation

The Surfrider Foundation is a grassroots, non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research and education. The Surfrider Foundation operates through a system of over 80 chapters located in almost every coastal state and internationally.

The Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) is the Surfrider Foundation’s volunteer water quality monitoring, education and advocacy program. Designed to take advantage of the daily presence of surfers and beachgoers in coastal waters, it is the Surfrider Foundation's most visible and successful program to date.

The BWTF program serves many purposes beyond providing a record of beach water quality. Chapters are educating students about water-quality issues and promoting a coastal stewardship ethic. Our chapters are also utilizing this program to alert citizens and officials in their communities about water quality problems and to work toward solutions.

BWTF volunteers often become advocates for the beaches and watersheds they are monitoring and bring their data to local decisionmakers when water quality issues are discovered. Many Surfrider chapters have been very successful at elevating public awareness of water quality issues and integrating science into local management schemes aimed at solving beach pollution problems.

Newport, Oregon

The Blue Water Task Force laboratory in Newport, Oregon is located at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Nearly thirty Surfrider volunteers participate in this program by collecting weekly water samples from Newport’s beaches and upstream waterways. Past BWTF data have revealed consistently high bacteria counts at Nye Beach and in Nye Creek. Concerned by the lack of public awareness of this pollution problem, the local chapter approached the City with their data. In 2005, the City of Newport responded by forming the Mayor’s Water Quality Committee to deal with the issues Surfrider was raising.

The chapter worked cooperatively with the Mayor’s Water Quality Committee to improve public notification of the creek’s contamination through newly developed signage. Nye Beach and the Nye Creek outfall were also included in the State of Oregon’s Beach Monitoring Program for the first time. This was a pretty significant achievement as these locations were not even being tested previously, and Nye Creek became the first freshwater site ever to be included in the State’s regular beach monitoring program. The Committee also developed watershed education leaflets that were distributed with the City’s utility bills.

In early 2007, the mayor concluded the Water Quality Committee but the chapter has continued to push local and state authorities to investigate and to start solving the pollution problems in Nye Creek and Nye Beach.

As part of their efforts to identify the sources of pollution, the chapter performed a watershed characterization that included sewer and stormwater infrastructure mapping and hot-spot testing. Illegal dumping of waste from trailers and homeless camps were identified as one possible source of contamination in the upper watershed of Nye Creek. The city responded by removing the trailers and fining their owners. A nuisance ordinance was also passed to move the homeless camps away from the creek.

The work to identify the source of pollution continued, however, as the greatest concentrations of bacteria were found in the lower watershed. While the Chapter had difficulties at first trying to motivate the City Council to seriously investigate the sources of pollution, a youth volunteer group, Nye – Awareness, Research, Monitoring and Stewardship (ARMS), was more successful. This group was formed by members of the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s Youth Volunteers, who had been collecting and analyzing water samples. Under the guidance and mentorship of the Chapter, these youth became more involved in researching the Nye Creek Watershed. As part of their collaborative project with the Newport Chapter, they presented their findings from their winter water quality project to Newport City Council and made recommendations for Nye creek water quality issues.

In response the City began conducting smoke and dye testing to investigate the storm water basin and discovered several misconnections. Seven properties were discharging directly to the storm water system instead of the city sewer. These cross-connections have since been rectified. Learn more about the smoke testing and the investigation at

The chapter was also successful in convincing the City Council to revise Newport’s municipal code to mandate best management practices for water quality improvements through sewer, storm water and other non-point source pollution controls. The City unanimously passed an animal waste removal ordinance and watershed protection ordinances regulating stormwater runoff, including the creation of a stormwater utility and an opt-out incentive program for residents and businesses that participate in stormwater disconnect projects on their property.

Further reductions in non-point source pollution will also hopefully be seen in Nye Creek from the installation of a biopond in the upper watershed. The City of Newport has received approval from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to install this biopond to improve water quality in the watershed. Newport is able to use 80% of a past fine levied by the state for water quality violations to fund this Supplemental Environmental Project. The Newport Surfrider chapter was involved in the design phase of this project.

The Newport chapter’s BWTF program has also branched out beyond the Nye Creek watershed to participate in the Mid-Coast Basin Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program. Located on Oregon’s central coast, the Mid-Coast Basin contains urban areas, agricultural lands, and public and industrial forests. Approximately 500 of its 2,765 stream miles are in violation of water quality standards for fecal coliform or E. coli bacteria. Volunteers throughout the Mid-Coast Basin are collecting water samples, and Surfrider will be providing its bacteria data to the DEQ to establish TMDL Load and Wasteload Allocations.

San Vicente Creek, California

The San Mateo County Chapter has also successfully used their BWTF program to raise awareness of water quality issues and initiate change in the San Vicente Creek watershed in California. The San Vicente Creek flows entirely within San Mateo County and drains to the ocean in the James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. The Chapter’s interest in this watershed began when they noticed that the beach in the Reserve was almost constantly posted with a swimming advisory due to high bacterial counts. Despite the advisory, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is a very popular beach for school field trips, and children were observed washing their hands in the creek on numerous occasions.

The Chapter decided to contact local authorities at the San Mateo County Health Department to investigate the source of the bacterial pollution. Together with the County and landowners along the creek, they began testing the water quality upstream to identify hot spots of pollution in San Vicente Creek watershed. This collaborative study identified numerous sources of bacteria including old septic and sewer systems, animal pens, illegal agricultural residences, equestrian facilities and illegal discharges.

All landowners were very keen to take action to reduce their impact on the San Vicente Creek Watershed. The chapter and county worked with the equestrian facilities to install Best Management Practices (BMPs) such as moving fences away from the creek, moving manure piles, composting manure, changing how horses are pastured and altering the farms’ drainage. The chapter conducted monthly water quality monitoring at the equestrian facilities and brought middle school students to Moss Beach Ranch to demonstrate the BMPs as part of the chapter’s Watershed Discovery Workshop.

The water quality at the beach in the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve has improved. The beach isn’t posted as often as it once was. Even when the water quality does not meet the bathing standard, the bacteria levels aren’t as high as they once were. The chapter continues to participate in the San Mateo County Department of Health’s Recreational Water Quality Program by collecting water samples from area beaches. Read more at

Other Chapter Efforts

There are many other examples throughout Surfrider where chapters have successfully applied scientific data and studies to raise community awareness of water quality issues. In doing so, Surfrider volunteers are motivating local governments and stakeholders to locate and take action to eliminate sources of beach water pollution.

After a source tracking study identified pet waste as the major source of fecal pollution in a section of the inter-coastal waterway near Charleston, SC, the Charleston Chapter obtained a small grant from the City of Folly Beach to make and install plastic bag dispensers at beach access points for dog owners’ use. The Chapter’s “Love Dogs, Hate Poop” campaign includes an education element and has led to the design of the Dog Rocket (patent pending). Chapter volunteers continue to maintain the plastic bag dispensers.

In California, the San Luis Bay Chapter noticed an interesting trend when they evaluated three years of water quality testing data from Pismo Beach. The results showed that higher levels of bacteria were being measured during the dry summer months than during the winter when storm water is more likely to flush pollutants from the landscape. The Chapter brought this to the attention of the City, who responded very favorably by forming a Pismo Beach Water Quality Group. This Group has already improved the public notification system of beach closures at Pismo Beach and has successfully applied for a state grant to fund a source tracking study.

In addition to using their own BWTF data to highlight water quality issues, Surfrider chapters are also helping to get agency beach data out to the public by posting it on websites, sending out email alerts, and putting up posters at beaches, schools, and other community bulletin boards. Through these efforts, the Blue Water Task Force is linking the regulatory agencies with concerned citizens and resource users.


The Surfrider Foundation is a grass-roots network of volunteers that come from all walks of life and backgrounds. Surfrider’s diverse global membership is motivated by their common love for the ocean and a strong desire to protect our beaches for everyone’s enjoyment. The Blue Water Task Force Program provides a vehicle for volunteers to participate in science and to motivate coastal communities to take action to clean up our watersheds and improve the water quality at our beaches.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Astoria High School Testing the Waters

AHS science students join other labs in search of bacteria in the surf


Posted by The Daily Astorian, Monday, April 14, 2008

Astoria High School junior Brian Perez draws water from a jar into a tube, mixes up a solution and taps out the bubbles.

"Bubbles screw up the results," he explains. "There are different bacteria in the air that could react."

His lab partners, too, are careful not to compromise the integrity of their sample, remarking in urgent whispers, "Be careful!" and "Don't touch it!"

Tightly sealed in a plastic tray, the liquid is set aside for incubation in the applied science center at Astoria High. It will be 24 hours before students know the bacteria levels of their latest sample. What they find will have real-world implications, yielding measurements that reveal potential health hazards to beach users along the Oregon Coast.

"Inquiry-based science is one of our primary goals at Astoria High School," said Instructor Tim Roth, who teaches chemistry and cellular biology, a class that targets students interested in health occupations. "But more importantly, we feel it is vital to encourage students' work within our community on science that is relevant to their lives, and where they feel they can actually make an impact."

The water testing lab, new this year in Roth's class, could lead to a better overall understanding of what goes into waters off the North Coast.

 Established with the Surfrider Foundation's Portland chapter, the new Blue Water Task Force branch joins several other coastal labs, adding popular recreational beaches from Astoria to Oswald West to more than 20 locations volunteers already track farther south.

Charlie Plybon, Surfrider's Oregon field coordinator, said the goal is to alert communities about local water quality problems that affect their health, but also to work toward long-term solutions. While a sample or two offer a snapshot of marine conditions for a short period, collected regularly over a longer time, they can help pinpoint pollution at its source.

"Understanding pollution patterns at recreational beaches is not only important for the health of surfers, paddlers and beachgoers," Plybon said, "but also for how we develop and understand our impact on coastal ecosystems."

The results of Astoria High's tests are posted on Surfrider's online database after students measure and chart bacteria levels. Their process is similar to what's used by the state's Beach Monitoring Program that also tracks bacterial concentrations off Oregon's shores, but which, according to Plybon, is hamstrung by limited funding.

"They don't get to test everywhere all the time," he said. "At this point we sort of augment their testing. Unfortunately, recreational users are using the beach a lot more often than they're testing."

Surfers and others who spend time in the ocean routinely fall victim to a wide range of nasty waterborne ailments, from skin rashes and ear, eye and sinus infections to more serious illnesses like Hepatitis A, which can cause liver damage.

A major culprit: enterococcus, or fecal bacteria, which works its way into marine waters through streams and creeks and stormwater runoff, from home septic systems, sewage spills and animal waste. That's what Astoria High students are testing for.

But while knowing a beach is polluted may keep a few bodies off the water for a day, at this point, the information is mostly used to understand a bigger picture.

"We use the data over the long term more than we do for the short term," said Plybon. "It's not as much for us to warn people to stay out of the water or to deter people; we want them to know what their risks are.

"Surfers will go out if there's a health advisory. That's just the draw of the sport, that hunger to surf. Guys are gonna get in the water."

Take it from Mark "Finger" Taylor, owner of Cold Water Surf in Astoria: Sometimes the waves are just too good to care.

"Where a person surfs depends on a lot of factors," he said recently at his shop, now also a collection site for water samples. "The quality of water would be one of those variables. But surfers are a funny lot. I've gotten sick before on closed beaches."

Taylor earned his nickname when his left middle finger was on the mend, after he dislocated it while venturing into the surf. Despite "immense pain" and the odd angle his finger was cocked at the knuckle after breaking his fall on some slimy rocks, Taylor surfed a full two hours with his injured hand; he never regained mobility of that middle digit.

"The doctor told me that had I tended to my finger right after the injury, instead of surfing with it, it would have fully healed," he recounted in a book, "Surfing's Greatest Misadventures."

"I let his absurd hypothesis pass without comment - obviously, he was not a surfer."

However, a recent spate of possible staph infections among North Coast surfers may have intensified water concerns for some. The cases appear to share one link: the Cove, a popular Seaside surf spot.

"No one can really put a finger on it to say where it's coming from," said Mark Mekenas, who runs Cannon Beach Surf Shop. "All of us have one place in common: We all surf at the Cove. But there's no way to say we got it at the Cove. You just can't."

Plybon, who hears reports of possible beach-related illnesses through Surfrider, said he can confirm three cases of infections from deadly antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria, which spreads rapidly from person to person or by indirect contact through open wounds. But he agreed with Mekenas the cases could be a coincidence.

"It's tough to say," he said. "The water turbidity, color and algal blooms that have been happening in Seaside have been pretty dark. That is typical for this time of year, but it's been funkier than it usually is."

Although water tested at Astoria High showed a couple of spikes in the Cove's bacteria levels in early to mid-March, concentrations appeared down by the end of the month.

Now, the class needs more samples - more volunteers who regularly collect and deliver them Mondays, the student' testing day - to better track what's happening off the coast, said Roth.

"We'd like to be able to expand the program," he said. "The more data we have the better."

Plybon agreed, noting if the community starts now, it can prevent some problems from happening in the future, like those in California, where "it's been so urbanized that with the stormwater runoff on the coast after any rainstorm, they basically give a two-day warning to folks," often without needing to do tests.

"Our goal in Oregon is not to get there," Plybon said. "If we plan properly now and work with cities and with coastal communities for best management practices for things like stormwater and sewage, those things can help us in the long term, so we don't end up like California one day with high health advisories every time it rains."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

South Orange County's BWTF Data Reaching the Community

Five local high schools now participate in the South Orange County Chapter's Blue Water Task Force program. San Clemente and Dana Hills High Schools have been testing the water quality at local beaches as part of an AP science class. The Laguna Beach High School Surfrider Club runs their beach monitoring program during the school year. During the summer community volunteers help collect samples. The BWTF program grew this past year to include science students at Capistrano Valley and Tesoro High Schools.

The students post their beach water quality data in the local newspaper, Laguna Beach Independent, and hang fliers at their schools, surf shops, cafe's and other community bulletin boards. At the end of each school year the Chapter hosts a Clean Water Symposium where each school presents their results. In addition to acknowledging the students efforts over the year, the symposium also provides a venue for interested members of the community and local government to learn about local beach water quality issues. The Clean Water Symposium also helps to raise awareness of the Chapter and its programs within the community.

Congratulations to the South Orange County Chapter and to all of the students for doing a great job at communicating the results of their beach monitoring programs!

Investigating the Sources of Pollution at Pismo Beach, California

Researchers from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo began a source tracking study in May, 2008 at Pismo Beach in California. The San Luis Bay chapter was highlighted in Making Waves last year for drawing attention to a chronic water quality problem at Pismo Beach and working with the Mayor to apply for a State grant to fund a source tracking study. It is good to see this issue continuing to move forward.

The below article reports the study’s cost at $660,000 plus a $50,000 local match. These costs certainly vary depending on the scope of the study and location, but are usually out of range for a chapter to pursue on their own. Congratulations to the San Luis Bay chapter for establishing good relationships with the Mayor’s office and the Pismo Beach Water Quality Group to successfully obtain funding for this source tracking study.

OCEAN POLLUTION: Pismo study to find source of bacteria
A team of Cal Poly professors will begin a yearlong analysis of the waters south of the pier in Ma
By AnnMarie Cornejo, originally posted on
April 2, 2008.

A team of scientists next month will begin tracking the source of ocean pollution that has caused a series of bacteria warnings for the waters south of the Pismo Beach Pier. This week, the city received a state grant of more than $660,000 to pay for the project. Five Cal Poly professors will use an advanced DNA tracking method to identify the source of the bacterial pollution — something that city officials say has not been done in the state.

High bacteria levels have plagued the small beach town’s coastline near the pier for years. Last year, an annual statewide beach report done by Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica- based environmental group, gave Pismo Beach a grade of D for the busy summer months and a C for the year. Those marks compare unfavorably to the A grades at all other county beaches. So far this year, high bacteria warnings have been posted at the stretch of beach just south of the pier seven times. The beach was posted 23 times last year and 24 times in 2006.

The grant allows the city to hire Cal Poly microbiology professor Chris Kitts, who will work with a team to gather a year’s worth of water samples and conduct DNA testing on the bacteria to determine its source. Potential sources include people, wildlife and livestock. The city is required to contribute only $50,000 to the study, which was included in the budget in anticipation of the grant. “As far as I know, we are the only city to pursue this to this level,” said Dennis Delzeit, city public works director. “Everyone in the state is looking at this study to see what comes out of it.”

Kitts predicts that the source of the polluting bacteria will be determined by January 2010. The team will begin taking water samples in May and do so weekly for the next 11 months. In the summer, when most problems occur, daily samples will be taken. And, for two days at the height of the study, water samples will be taken hourly. “There has been an increase of advisory postings during the summer over the last three years and that is when Pismo really needs the beach open,” Kitts said.

Pismo Beach officials have worked to solve the bacteria problem during the past two years with actions that included adopting an ordinance prohibiting beachgoers from feeding birds in order to limit the amount of pigeon feces near the pier. The city also changed the way it cleans the pier, inspected all sewer lines around the beach and formed an Ocean Water Quality Committee. City officials anticipate the study will help provide a solution. “The city has struggled with a negative image, and this grant allows us to turn that around and be seen as an environmentally active community,” Delzeit said.

Oregon Youth Volunteers Present to Newport City Council

In May 2008, The Oregon Coast Aquarium’s Youth Volunteers, as part of their collaborative project with Newport Chapter of Surfrider Foundation, presented their winter project to Newport City Council on their findings and recommendations for Nye creek water quality issues. Through the creation of a youth volunteer group, Nye – Awareness, Research, Monitoring and Stewardship (ARMS), the Newport Chapter was aiming to get some better public messaging about the water quality issues facing Nye Beach and creek.

Renee Rensmeyer, youth volunteer coordinator, worked with local chapter members to mentor the Nye ARMS winter project. The kids, over the course of the winter project, helped increase monitoring and source ID efforts, tracked storm drain pollution and helped direct the city’s smoke and dye testing of the storm drain lines for sewage misconnections (helping to identify 5 sewer lines connected to the stormdrains…yuck!). Additionally the group did stewardship cleanups, mapping and finalized their project with a powerpoint presentation and ordinance recommendations for the Newport City Council.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Newport Chapter partners with local agencies to promote clean water

In early 2007, the Surfrider Foundation was approached by the Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District about participating in a joint water quality monitoring program.

"It just made a lot of sense," commented Charlie Plybon, Surfrider Foundation Oregon Field Coordinator. "They were looking for folks who are invested in their community's watershed and could offer support in field sampling and lab work for a volunteer monitoring project."

It was a perfect match: Surfrider already had the lab and the project funding would support other supplies needed for testing additional water quality parameters. "The partners and expertise of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) made this project move forward quite smoothly," Plybon noted. "We developed a framework for cooperation bringing Surfrider Foundation, Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District, DEQ, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium into a formal partnership."

Using DEQ training and expertise, volunteers across the Mid-Coast Basin familiar with local watersheds "are able to test for different water quality parameters and engage as a community in this statewide process," Plybon continued. "Surfrider had been doing very similar testing on beaches in the area, so they fit well with the model for local partners."

Although water quality sampling occurs upstream and not on the beaches, it is still of great interest for Surfrider. "What happens in the river will eventually make its way downstream to the ocean. Making land-sea connections is extremely important in assessing our coastal water quality," said Plybon.

The Mid-Coast Basin is located on Oregon's central coast from Cascade Head, located north of Lincoln City, to Siltcoos and Tahkenitch Lakes south of Florence. The basin contains a combination of urban communities, privately owned agricultural lands, and public and industrial forest land and has approximately 2,765 stream miles in the Siletz-Yaquina, Alsea and Siuslaw sub-basins. About 500 miles have been identified as violating water quality standards for fecal coliform or E. coli bacteria.
Historically, the Mid-Coast Basin estuary systems have been monitored extensively by the DEQ and the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) for benefit of commercial shellfish production, Plybon noted. The estuaries support a commercial shellfishery, as well as many recreational shellfish opportunities. Bacteria loads in the Mid-Coast Basin are potentially from multiple sources including wildlife, sewage treatment plant upsets, on-site septic systems, urban area runoff, and agricultural practices.

"Water quality improvement now requires a comprehensive watershed approach to solving pollution problems. This reflects the combined effects that all the activities in a watershed have on overall water quality," said Plybon. "To solve water quality problems in a stream, river, lake or estuary, we need to consider the cumulative impact from all upstream sources. Surfrider takes this same approach to water quality on the beaches."

DEQ's comprehensive watershed approach for protecting water quality includes developing Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) affecting both point and non-point sources. "DEQ is diligently working to have federally-approved TMDLs on all water bodies listed in 1998 for not meeting standards by the end of this decade," Plybon said. "This timeframe takes into account the urgency to save declining salmon runs, the desire of landowners to begin working on restoration efforts, and the desire of communities to safeguard their drinking water sources. The goal of this project is to acquire sufficient data to develop a TMDL for bacteria in the Mid-Coast Basin."

The Oregon DEQ will use this bacteria data, together with flow data, to develop load duration curves to establish TMDL Load Allocations and Wasteload Allocations on bacteria-listed streams and others streams where bacteria violations are found.

The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of the world's oceans, waves, and beaches. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains more than 50,000 members and 63 chapters across the United States and Puerto Rico, with international affiliates in Australia, Europe, Japan, and Brazil.

The Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District works to improve and conserve natural resources on agricultural, forested, private, urban and rural lands in Lincoln County, Oregon by providing information, education, and outreach; technical assistance to private landowners to develop and implement conservation plans on their property; an interface between agencies and landowners; and collaborating with federal, state, and local government agencies and groups.

Originally posted by
Newport on July 3. 2007.

Surfrider in Newport, Oregon Partners with City to Track Sources of Pollution

Answers sought for Nye Beach water quality problems: City partners with Surfrider Foundation to find solution
Posted on on Jan 18, 2008 by Steve Card of the News-Times

On an all-too-frequent basis, health advisories have been posted on Newport's Nye Beach due to higher-than-normal levels of bacteria in the ocean waters at that location. To determine why the bacteria levels are consistently high, and to find a solution to the problem, city officials have teamed up with the Surfrider Foundation, a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enhancement of oceans and beaches.

Charlie Plybon, Oregon field coordinator for Surfrider, said they sample water quality at locations up and down the coast, and they were regularly getting high bacteria readings at Nye Creek in Newport. Eventually, the Oregon Department of Humans Services, too, began taking water samples at Nye Beach as part of its beach monitoring program, and this has led to the frequent health advisories being issued for that area.

Realizing this is a problem that needs to be dealt with, the city has struggled to determine the cause. The fact that there is a sewer pump station nearby, and that the city discharges treated wastewater offshore from Nye Beach, led to speculation by some members of the public the city was fouling its own beach. But both Surfrider and the city have done extensive water testing in the area, leading them to conclude the source of contamination is not from the sanitary sewer system or the outfall from the treatment plant. In fact, when water samples were taken upstream from the sewer pump station, bacteria levels remained high.

“I think one of the biggest achievements we've made with the City of Newport, from a Surfrider standpoint, was we both recognized there's an issue with the water coming out of the pipe at Nye Creek (at the seawall),” Plybon said. “The bacteria levels we were measuring were not coming from the wastewater treatment plant and the outfall of that. It was in the storm water line.”

How that pollution is entering the storm drainage system is not yet known, but Plybon said there are two possible sources. Heavy rains can wash animal waste - both wild and domestic - into the storm sewer, which contributes to high bacterial levels. The other source would be from human waste. “At the levels that Surfrider is finding, we're not comfortable attributing all of this to background bacteria levels (from animal waste) in storm water,” he said.

To track down the source of the pollution, the city is attempting to isolate areas of high bacterial levels through a stepped-up water-testing program. In addition to testing at the seawall, “we are also testing Nye Creek and its tributary arms, and we're going up into the storm drain systems ... trying to chase this problem down,” said City Engineer Lee Ritzman. Ritzman said he agrees with Plybon's assessment that not all of the bacteria is being generated by animal waste. If it were, then the bacteria level would be high after a heavy rain and would eventually drop back off. But that is not the case. “We think we're finding something that is consistently high,” he said.

Ritzman said there is a possibility that somewhere within the Nye Beach drainage basin, there could be household sewage going directly into the storm drain. Back in the 1970s, the city had one sewer system to collect both storm water and household sewage. When these were separated into two systems, a household could have been missed, “or somebody has a septic system that's hooked into the storm drain.” He added it would only take one residence dumping sewage into the storm drain to get the elevated bacteria count being seen in the water samples.

Once the city isolates a “hot” zone, where bacteria levels in storm water are high, then they can try to find the specific source of the problem. “Charlie's group has offered to provide some help when it becomes appropriate, where we would go in and do dye testing of sewer systems,” said Ritzman. “We can open a manhole (in the sanitary sewer) flush some florescent dye down the toilet, and then make sure that it shows up in the manhole.” If they don't see the dye, then they'll do further investigation to see if that particular residence is a source of the problem. “It's like trying to prove a negative, in some cases,” said Ritzman. “We find the positives and eliminate them.”

Another option being considered by the city is DNA testing on the water samples collected. A basic test can determine whether or not there is human waste present. But the city may want to take it a step further, Ritzman said. More extensive DNA testing can tell them what percentage of the bacteria is coming from human or animal waste. It can also determine what type of bird or animal waste it is - such as seagull, raccoon or dog. “We can't draw a lot of conclusions,” he said, “but we would hope that it would give us a general idea.” Determining what type of waste is contributing to the problem will help determine a remedy, he said.

Even if it does turn out that animal waste is not the primary cause of the high bacteria levels, Plybon would like to see that issue addressed as a long-term goal. “There's a lot of wildlife and domestic animals (in this area). They may not be the ‘hot' source that's creating this really, really high bacteria, but they are a contributor. And every little accumulating piece basically exacerbates the problem.” He would like to see some long-term planning with a goal toward cleaner storm water. “There's things that we can implement now that will help us long term,” he said. “You could make it city code for everybody to pick up their pet waste. They do that in Corvallis and in Portland.”

Firestone said while there isn't an ordinance pertaining to that yet, “it's coming up for a city council work session. The intent is to ask the council to adopt a dog waste ordinance.”

O'Neal believes that often people simply don't make the connection between pet waste and water quality.

There is yet another issue that results in the contamination of Nye Beach, and that is when the city experiences a sewer spill at its pump station. That happens occasionally, and when it does, the city posts an advisory at the beach. Plybon said it is unfortunate when those incidents occur, but people should not try to link it to the other water quality problems because they are two separate issues. “Unfortunately there are other events (sewer spills). They do happen, and those things should be treated separately and not become part of this problem.”

As far as the on-going water-quality problem, Plybon said, “I feel optimistic they're going to find this (source of contamination), that we're going to solve this issue.”

City Manager Allen O'Neal said the problem has been very frustrating for the city. “There are some people who have made comments in public ... almost with the suggestion that we as staff think it's OK, or that we are perpetrating it.

“There's obviously a lot of frustration over this,” continued O'Neal. “We, too, are frustrated, but we are approaching this in a methodical and a scientific way, and our partnership with Surfrider improves our opportunity for determining the cause.”

Plybon said the ultimate goal of both the city and Surfrider “is we don't want these advisories in Nye Beach anymore. From a health perspective, it's bad. From a business perspective, it's bad.”

Newport isn't alone in its struggle to overcome this type of problem, added Plybon. “From a coastal perspective, up and down the state of Oregon, there's a lot of areas that are challenged in this way. To Newport's credit, I don't know of any other municipality along the coast that is testing in this fashion. I think the city deserves some credit for that.”

related editorial

Tracking the Source: Where is all this pollution coming from?

As surfers and beach goers who care about the environmental health of our beaches and oceans, we are becoming increasingly aware of water quality issues that affect our favorite beaches. Our coastal towns are growing. This development brings not only more homes and businesses to our neighborhoods, but also more sources of pollution. Coastal watersheds are affected by failing septic systems, sewage leaks, pet waste, agriculture, large populations of birds and other wildlife.

Since the passage of the national BEACH Act in 2000, most states have developed water quality monitoring programs that predict the risk to human health from exposure to polluted water. Decisions, based on a measurement of bacteria that indicate the presence of illness-causing pathogens, are made by local health departments to issue swimming advisories or close beaches. Once a beach closure sign goes up at a beach or water quality data are posted on the internet, however, the responsibility of most health agencies ends leaving local citizens to ask “Where is all this pollution coming from?”

The difficulty with determining the sources of beach water pollution is that the indicator bacteria that are measured, typically Enterococcus sp. in marine waters, are present in the gut of all warm-blooded animals. The methods approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for beach monitoring do not differentiate between bacteria from an animal source, such as cow manure or pet waste, from human-based sources such as leaking sewer systems. Most watersheds are stressed by multiple sources of fecal pollution, making it very difficult to take action to clean up our waterways without knowing where to focus our attention.

Fortunately, the scientific research community has recognized this need and has been very busy over the last decade developing technologies to distinguish the sources of fecal pollution in a watershed. Microbial source tracking methods can be separated into four groups of related technologies.

Genetic methods are based on identifying a genetic ‘fingerprint’, or distinct DNA pattern, of the fecal bacteria from a known source in the watershed and comparing it to the bacteria in polluted water samples. To perform a source tracking study, samples of fecal matter from human and animal sources throughout the watershed are taken, and distinct genetic fingerprints are isolated from the bacteria from each source. The bacteria present in the receiving coastal waterbodies are then compared to the known sources.

Genetic fingerprinting not only identifies the sources of fecal pollution, but it also determines the percentage that each source is contributing to the pollution problem. For instance, a study performed in the Tualatin River Basin in Oregon revealed that in nearly all of the tested sites, birds were responsible for 50% of the pollution. Other sources were identified as rodent 16%, dog 13%, human 4%, wildlife 6%, cat 1%, and 9% of the pollution was from an unknown source. As a result of this study, the local government decided to pursue an aggressive public education program to make people aware of the consequences of feeding ducks and other birds and to get them to change their behavior (Clean Water Services, 2005).

Other source tracking methodologies are based on comparing the physiological differences that bacteria have acquired from different animal hosts. For instance, the bacteria present in humans have developed a greater resistance to antibiotics than those from animals. Researchers can identify the source of fecal pollution by comparing the antibiotic resistance of bacteria from water samples to known sources of pollution. This test is not as specific as those based on genetic fingerprints, but it can usually differentiate between pollution from human, livestock, and wildlife sources and can be very helpful in focusing pollution control strategies.

Other types of methodologies look for human viruses or the presence of chemicals such as caffeine or laundry detergent to indicate human sources of pollution. These methods are most useful in urban areas to identify sewer leaks and failures.

So you might be asking, why then, if the technology is available, are more coastal cities not tracking the sources of pollution in their watersheds? The answer is pretty simple. Microbial source tracking is expensive. Most methods require expensive equipment and a high level of technical expertise. The methods are also still under development and are not yet approved by the EPA for standard monitoring programs.

This shouldn’t discourage chapters who want to become involved in solving water quality problems at their local beaches. Several chapters have had very successful involvement in source tracking efforts. After a source tracking study of a section of the inter-coastal waterway near Charleston, SC pointed the finger at domestic pet waste as the major source of fecal pollution, the Charleston Chapter obtained a small grant from the City of Folly Beach to make and install plastic bag dispensers at beach access points for dog owners’ use. The Chapter’s “Love Dogs, Hate Poop” campaign includes an education element and has led to the design of the Dog Rocket (patent pending). Chapter volunteers continue to maintain the plastic bag dispensers. Read more about this project on the Chapter's website.

In response to high bacteria counts and beach closures at Stinson Beach in California, the Marin County Chapter partnered with the County Water Board to commission a source tracking study to identify the source of water pollution. The study showed that the National Park Service Golden Gate Recreation Area was discharging wastewater into the ocean. The chapter was very active in raising public awareness of this issue in the local papers and has continued to work with the Water Board to convince the National Park Service to upgrade the onsite septic systems in the Park.

Further down the coast, the San Luis Bay Chapter noticed an interesting trend when they evaluated three years of water quality testing data from Pismo Beach. The results show that Pismo Beach has higher levels of bacteria during the dry summer months than during the winter when storm water is more likely to flush pollutants from the landscape. The Chapter brought this to the attention of the City, who responded very favorably by forming a Pismo Beach Water Quality Group. This Group has already improved the public notification system of beach closures at Pismo Beach and has applied for a state grant to fund a source tracking study.

The Newport Chapter in Oregon has a similar story. They approached the City of Newport with their BWTF data demonstrating a problem with bacterial pollution at Nye Beach and in Nye Creek. The City formed an ad-hoc committee, and by working with this committee, the Chapter was able to improve public notification and signage. Nye Beach was also included in the State of Oregon’s Beach Monitoring Program for the first time. The Chapter has now formed its own research committee to seek collaboration and match funding to pay for a source tracking study in the Nye Creek Watershed.

Those interested in learning more about microbial source tracking can review the proceedings from a workshop held in 2002 that brought the top researchers in the field together to discuss and evaluate the emerging technologies used to track the sources of water pollution.


Clean Water Services. 2005. DNA Fingerprinting of Bacteria Sources in the Tualatin Sub-basin.

Griffith, John, S. Wesiberg and C. McGee. 2003. Evaluation of microbial source tracking methods using mixed fecal sources in aqueous test samples. Journal of Water and Health.

Scott, Troy, J. Rose, R. Jenkins, S. Farrah and J Lukasik. 2002. Microbial Source Tracking: Current Methodology and Future Directions. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Vol 68/12. pgs 5796-5803.

Blue Water Task Force - Bringing Together Rival High Schools

Students from two rival New Jersey high schools are teaming up to test local waters through Surfrider Foundation’s Blue Water Task Force program. The environmental clubs of both Wall Township High School and Manasquan High School are testing the waters in and around Wreck Pond. Both towns are in the Wreck Pond watershed in coastal Monmouth County, NJ. Jersey Shore Chapter activist and science teacher at Wall, Joe Mairo, put the program together and Tom Glenn of Manasquan brought on his students.

The beaches near Wreck Pond are closed more frequently than any other beaches in NJ. The shallow, algae-filled pond is over populated with waterfowl and if it rains just 1/10th of an inch, the beach is closed preemptively. The pond once flowed freely to the ocean and was occasionally flushed by high tides and storms. But it was closed off to the ocean decades ago with only a man-made flume draining it. It just goes to show what can happen when you interrupt natural processes.

“We chose Wreck Pond because its notoriously bad water quality has affected beaches in the area for years,” said Mairo. The state has done a lot of work on extending the pond’s flume, but there is an indication that the pollution problems still exists.”

Other students helping with this project are Manasquan High School seniors Lee Kresge, Phil Lewis, and Veronica Impellizeri, and Wall High School Student Jessica Krug.

The Chapter received a grant from the Linus A. Gilbert Foundation with the help of Wachovia Bank Charitable Services to cover the cost of the testing. At the end of the school year, both sets of students will report their findings to the local chapter. The chapter may in turn make those findings known to the local environmental commissions or town councils. That data may help decide if the $5million the state spent on extending the flume was worth it.

Originally posted by John Weber in Making Waves, vol 23/no. 3

Jersey Shore's BWTF Investigates Wreck Pond

Monmouth County teens care for local waters
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 02/24/07 by TODD B. BATES,

Cousins Kelsey and Rachel Clayton, students at Wall High School, took their first-ever ocean water samples Tuesday near the outfall from polluted Wreck Pond in southern Monmouth County. The samples then were brought to a school lab to check fecal bacteria levels, according to Joe Mairo, a biology teacher at the school.

Manasquan High School students also are taking water samples — from three spots around Wreck Pond — as part of the project, said Thomas Glenn, a chemistry and science teacher at the high school. "It's kind of cool because the kids are excited about it and it kind of gives them a window into (the field of environmental science)," Glenn said.

Wreck Pond, which separates Spring Lake and Sea Girt, has been the source of most of New Jersey's ocean swimming bans during recent beach seasons. And the students are learning about what it's like to test the waters and about the local environment, according to Mairo.

The Jersey Shore chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit grass-roots environmental group, is sponsoring the project, which is funded by a $3,000 grant from the Wachovia Charitable Services Group, Mairo said. The project is part of the Surfrider Foundation's Blue Water Task Force program, which involves water quality monitoring, education and advocacy.

On Tuesday, Kelsey Clayton, a 17-year-old senior at Wall High School, and her cousin, Rachel Clayton, 15, a freshman there, took two ocean water samples. Both are members of the school's Environmental Club. They took one sample north of the new, 300-foot outfall pipe from the pond and the other sample south of the pipe. The air temperature was in the 50s, in sharp contrast to the 30s the day before, according to a National Weather Service Web site.

"We're just excited to give them the experience . . . in the lab and the field, especially on a day like today," said Mairo, 29, of Bradley Beach, a faculty adviser to the environmental club, along with science teacher Bob Dillon.

The girls used an approximately 10-foot-long pole to collect the samples, according to Mairo, a surfer and board member of the Jersey Shore chapter. "They don't have to . . . worry about getting wet or falling in or anything like that," he said.

The sampling, which began last month, is to continue through June and may continue next school year, he said.
"We're trying to do it twice a month," Mairo said.

Samples taken last month revealed a low level of fecal bacteria on the north side of the pipe and a moderate level on the south side. Samples grabbed on Tuesday revealed a moderate bacteria level north of the pipe and a low level south of it, Mairo said.

Kelsey Clayton said she's been a member of the Environmental Club since freshman year. "I enjoy being outside," she said. "I just wanted to join a club that helped."

Kelsey, who wants to be a pilot and has been accepted at five colleges, all aeronautical schools, said she's interested in environmental issues and would like to study the topic in college. She's writing an English paper on global warming, she said. She's also taking a horticulture class and growing peas and strawberries.

Rachel Clayton said she joined the environmental club "just to get involved in school and . . . helping the environment is kind of something I'm interested in."

"I like the outdoors," she said.

Manasquan High School seniors Lee Kresge, Phil Lewis and Veronica Impellizeri are taking samples from Wreck Pond weekly, said Glenn, an environmental science major in college and faculty adviser to that school's Environmental Club. "A lot of the kids who are in my club are really thinking of going into environmental science," said Glenn, 30, of Point Pleasant. The sampling project "kind of gives them . . . a real world application," he said.

"It's a very small window compared to some of the things you're going to do (in the environmental field)," he said.

Beach Testing Extended in New Hampshire

The New Hampshire beach monitoring program has been extended beyond the typical summer season. This important victory can be attributed to the energy and motivation of the newly formed New Hampshire Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

One of the first issues they tackled after forming was the lack of water quality information available to the public year-round. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) had been monitoring public beaches for over 20 years during what they considered to be the swimming season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. With some exception, water quality monitoring at beaches is typically limited to the summer in states along the northern and mid-Atlantic. The New Hampshire Chapter, however, has been successful in prompting their state government to do more.

The Chapter initially approached the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services with their concerns that people who swim or surf in the ocean are not provided with important information about the quality of the water throughout the year. In response, the manager of the state’s beach program was able to secure funding from an EPA grant to pay for extending the sampling program three months into the spring and three months into the fall. Surfrider volunteers are providing the work force for this program. Surfrider volunteers collect water samples weekly from 8 sampling sites at two of New Hampshire’s most popular surfing areas. Samples are delivered back to the NHDES for analysis. The NHDES also provided training to the volunteers on sampling protocol.

The first water samples were collected by the Surfrider volunteers on April 1, 2007. All swimming advisories are posted on the NHDES website.